Monday, 29 February 2016

Thinking of moving to the Big Island of Hawaii? By Stuart

Ocean View, HI

Are you thinking of moving to the Big Island of Hawaii, even perhaps from another island? If this is the case then I know that you will have concerns about moving to the Big Island. Concerns that range from affordability of rental units, cost of living, schools, medical, social, security, weather and the list is long and different for each person considering a move. This blog post is going to deal with some of the basic concerns at the same time I will highlight some of the experiences my family and I have had in the 2 years living on the Island. Much of this article is true for all the Hawaiian islands but these are my impressions on the Big Island specifically.
Wiapio Valley

Pine Trees Beach, Kona

First of all you must know that Hawaii is made up of a chain of mostly dormant volcanoes and six livable islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is probably the most remote place in the world. Flying here from any location, be it the USA West Coast, Canada, Alaska or the Far East, will not take less than 6 hours. However the islands are not remote by any means in that they are all serviced by a network of major airlines from all over the world and then smaller airlines or commuters will get you around the islands. It takes about an hour with Hawaiian airlines to travel from Hilo to Honolulu, the major city on the island of Oahu. Currently there are no sea-going ferries between islands which leaves flying as your only option. The cost of flying to the islands varies from airline to airline and time of year. I have seen mainland prices as low as $300 return and inter island prices can be as low as $50 so shop around on the internet.

Macadamia Farms, with Volcano smoke in distance. 

Hawaiian Airlines

All of Hawaii's volcanoes are dormant, with the exception of the Big Island, where one of the 5 is currently active. Before moving to Hawaii I had never been on a volcano and just the thought of it conjured up images of life threatening lava consuming everything in its path, with mountains of exploding fire and brimstone raining down while pressing the fleeing, terrified population into the sea. While this is possible and true for many volcanoes, the active volcano Kilauea, is a rather innocuous affair and offers visitors an opportunity to enjoy and experience one of natures truly spectacular wonders. And indeed when the volcano shows signs of activity, our tourism rates increase. The lava currently flowing out of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent is heading downhill so slowly that it is cooling and solidifying, and as such is no concern for the small village of Pahoa in its path. I live about 8 miles from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent and last year I was able to sit on my porch at night and watch the glow of lava while sipping wine with good friends. Occasionally it is possible to smell the sulphur dioxide known as "vog". However when it is prevalent, it is more of a problem downwind with the vog being carried as far away as Honolulu. As it spreads it is normally no more annoying than a mild case of city smog. Hay fever sufferers do complain more at these times though.

Halema'uma'u Lava Lake, 2015

There are numerous factors which should affect your decision about choosing the right location to live on the Big Island. Your age should be considered first. The island is by no means small and covers some 4000 square miles. It can take 4 hours or more at 55 miles per hour to circumnavigate the whole island. Therefore there are many cities and smaller villages to choose from. Some are remote and require more driving to access medical and other amenities. You will also find that as you search in the more remote areas, so the population becomes more ethnic Hawaiian, with people having lived in these areas for many generations. Depending on your character and as the new comer into a smaller village, you would need to decide whether you could fit into these villages. There are two main cities namely Kona and Hilo with populations accustomed to tourism, and therefore also to new comers on the islands. The 2 larger cities have populations of around 100,000 each and offer everything that any large city could possibly offer. Generally within 15 miles or so of Kona or Hilo, you can find reasonably affordable housing with good schools , colleges and access to medical, malls and super markets. One excellent point is the farmers network and access to farmers markets. There are many garage sales available over weekends to making life more affordable. If you are an older person, then medical access should be considered. The further away you reside from Kona or Hilo, the more difficult it would be for you in terms of emergencies and ambulance transfers. The islands do have Air Ambulances into Honolulu where medical facilities and medical care is world class.

Observatory on Mauna Kea

Generating income would need to be your next deciding factor in choosing where to live. If you are an entrepreneur type, then making a living can be easy here. Many people make their livelihood by selling home products, running organic farms to selling at farmers markets. Others are service types such as plumbers and electricians; there seems to be no shortage of work for these professions. If you are a nurse or EMT, work opportunities are endless. In short, if you are motivated then you will find work. I work for an Air Ambulance company, my wife is a CNA, my son works with tourists on the Zip lines, and my daughter is a Life Guard and college photographer. Living closer to Kona or Hilo allows for more opportunity if you are a services industry provider. Tourism and farming can be further out so it all depends on what your needs are. In my line of work I am able to live about 30 minutes from Hilo. I get the comfort of country living while working in the city, the best of both worlds. Remember to do your due diligence in whole because a seemingly small thing like internet availability could be an expensive or slow service in a remote location. This would be especially important if your business relies on internet connectivity. For a short time I lived near Hilo and had good access to fast, cheap, unlimited internet. But when I moved out to the country, my internet bill tripled in price and it was capped. For me this was a small concern since my business is not internet dependent.

Rainbow falls, with rainbow. Hilo

The Big Island has 13 climate zones. This means that you can enjoy rain forests, a desert, alpine and even snow on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes which rise to nearly 14000 ft above sea level. We are fortunate in Hawaii due to the trade winds, to have a moderate range in our diurnal temperature at sea level, which seldom rises beyond 95° summer and less than 65° winter but the humidity can be quite high. However as you climb up-slope the temperature and humidity drops and this can be a deciding factor when choosing where to live. A good example of this would be living in Hilo or Kona which are both sea level cities and can get to 95 degrees with high humidity opposed to living on the up-slopes of Kona at the 1500ft level or in Mountain View at 1500 ft level on the East side. The small increase in altitude can be more comfortable but accepting that you will be 20 minutes from town during peak traffic. East side rainfall is high at about 160 inches per year opposed to dry on the West side. The West side does get good rains at about the 1500 ft level. Generally there is no shortage of water but if you intend to run a small farm, you may want to consider water availability. Some farms and rural homes are on a water catchment process while others are able to connect to county water. I am comfortable with my catchment tank. The water runs through a filtration system to my house and is crystal clear.

Green Sea Turtle, Kona

Another concern is the frequency of hurricanes which pass the Big Island. When we moved to Mountain View our house was in the path of Hurricane Iselle, a category 1 hurricane. Many people sustained damage to their property when trees fell down but fortunately we escaped unscathed. Much of the hurricane damage can be attributed to the invasive type of tree that is growing on the Big Island, and not really from the hurricane itself. To clarify, if the type of tree, an Ibizea from Africa, was not the dominant tree in the lower Puna district, the damage statistics would have been much lower. The county now has a program to remove these trees. These invasive trees grow very quickly in this high rainfall region but due to the lava also have shallow roots.

Orchid Isle 

The East side also has an invasive ant from Brazil. It is a tiny and almost unnoticeable ant called a Fire Ant. They normally form a line when they are on the move, making them easy to detect. These ants were confined to the lower shoreline of the East side but during hurricane Iselle, the wind must have blown many uphill where they have formed new colonies and spread. When they sting or bite, the victim experiences a slight burning itching sensation in that area of the skin. The sensation is not as irritating as those stings experienced with the bigger Fire Ant found on the mainland USA. I have managed to eradicate the ants on my property with an aggressive spray and bait program.

Rainbow Isle

Dengue Fever has also recently been reported; it seems to be island wide rather than state-wide and it was probably imported by an infected visiting person. To date there have been 250 reported cases over the last 6 months when it was first detected. It is passed to humans from mosquito bites. Dengue Fever is treatable but more importantly, it is preventable by a regime of keeping the mosquito population breeding sites down. This is done by removing standing rain water sites like old tires from your locality and spraying plants with a solution of soapy water. Water catchments can be treated with chlorine. It is recommended to wear long sleeve shirts and trousers in the evenings and mornings when the mosquitoes feed and to keep your house screens on and repaired. Symptoms include headaches, rash and a fever of 104. The State has announced a spraying and education program and are determined to eradicate the disease. I recently heard on the radio that the spread and number of cases has declined substantially.

2 Step, Place of Refuge, Captain Cook

Rat Lungworm causes eosinophilic meningitis. A very nasty little parasite that can adversely affect your life is found in Hawaii and particularly on the Big Island. If you are considering moving to Hawaii, then I would strongly advise you study up on this subject. In short the parasite is found in slugs and snails and perhaps even in their slime trails. Small pieces of slug can have many thousands of parasites. If you are coming to the islands whether as a visitor or moving here, this will affect you in some way. You will either be visiting restaurants, or buying fresh produce from the local market, or producing your own home grown produce. You must know then that your mere presence on the islands means that you are also a potential victim to Rat lungworm parasite. You must take this seriously. Small changes in your lifestyle will protect you. You can discourage the slugs from being on your property by destroying them when you see them, however wear gloves when you handle them. Check your garden frequently and especially your fruit and vegetables before you bring them into your house. Slugs can be so small that they are barely recognizable. You do not want them in your kitchen. Be especially cautious of cold vegetables or salads when they have been provided, unless you are absolutely certain of the source of the cold foods. This is true for restaurants.

Hawaiian Sailing Canoe

Buying a home or choosing to rent. Unless you are completely knowledgable with the Big Island, I would highly recommend that you start your life here by renting a home. Give yourself time to get to know the island and communities before you settle on a house and location. When we moved here we rented a very nice 3 bedroom house above Hilo, and paid $950 per month rent for 8 months. The house was freshly painted with an attached garage and new carpets, so you do not have to settle for less. I recommend signing a 6 month lease if you intend to eventually buy. After 6 months your rent normally goes onto a month to month agreement anyway and you may just find a house and area you like in that time. I recommend that you use the service of a reputable real estate agency with a house inspector working for your interests before signing on a house. Like all places in the world, even new houses are prone to problems and a house inspection will pick up any defects prior to you signing. Its costs about $300 for an inspection and again check the real agency and inspectors for reviews before settling for his or services. Buying on the Big Island does allow you to get more bang for your buck and certainly as you get further away from either Hilo or Kona, you can find very attractive houses at very affordable rates with good sized yards or land. However if you are buying or renting, be sure to check the time it would take for you to commute to work. If renting then check the house for all the obvious problems which could cost you later on vacating the property if these were not included in the itemized defects list normally supplied by the renting agency. There are some traps which you should check before signing to buy or rent, which could definitely make your stay an unfortunate experience. Depending on your attitude towards dogs, you must know that the neighborhoods do have caged dogs and I have actually seen a house with as many as 12 caged up. Some of these dogs are kept like this indefinitely on the pretense that they are used for security or hunting. These dogs are frustrated in their conditions and tend to bark incessantly. So check the houses around you. Revisit the area at different times of the day to see how noisy it is. Dogs tend to become quieter during the heat of the day, when its raining or when its very cold. Try to visit the house early in the day or later when the dogs are getting hungry. You will soon hear them. Roosters are  also a problem and indeed there are whole rooster farms here. It goes without saying that you would want to avoid living near a rooster farm unless you are a rooster farmer. Many people are "Off Grid" in the surrounding country site, meaning that they are really off the grid with no electricity. Be warned though that people off the grid generally have to run a generator from time to time to recharge solar batteries. Both my adjacent neighbors run generators and at times it can be rather inconvenient. If you will be going off the grid, then generators shouldn't bother you.

When looking for a vehicle you will find the same opportunities through dealers or private sellers as you would anywhere in the USA. We brought our Chevy Suburban in from the USA mainland and it cost us about $2000 for shipping from Texas. If you are shipping from the West coast, it will cost about $1300 for a vehicle up to 21 foot in length. There are size dimensions which the shipping agencies work on so check with them. If you are buying through a private seller then expect island cars to have a little rust but surprisingly not as much as some states with salted roads. I find cars to be a little more expensive in Hilo than Kona and certainly it is cheaper to buy in Honolulu but you will pay about $450 for shipping and the air fare to and from Honolulu to view the car. The latter is more difficult to do unless you know someone in Honolulu who is prepared to screen a car for you. Otherwise go to Honolulu and buy through a dealer as they know the shipping rules and will assist with the shipping.

Hawaiian Wa'a (canoe) race

Pets are welcome in the islands but because the islands do not have the rabies virus, the authorities want to keep it rabies free and have imposed measures for the importation of pets. Strangely if you are coming from the mainland USA, you can expect moving your pets to be a lengthy and somewhat expensive procedure (approx. $1000 excluding quarantine) which may include a quarantine period of 3 months( at $17 per day) . It seems easier to import pets from Australia than to bring your pet in from the mainland. However if you follow the inoculation procedure to the letter, you can avoid unnecessary headaches later on arrival. I recommend that you check from all sources before you jump on to the first plane to Hawaii with your pet. The inoculation procedure should start about 4 months prior to traveling. Certain exotic pets and animals are illegal here and again you would need to check with the correct authority.
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